California drivers involved in any type of traffic accident are under specific legal obligations to report the crash. If you plan to hold the driver who caused the accident financially responsible for the losses you incurred, California has some laws that could substantially affect your case.
When Must Law Enforcement be Notified of a Car Accident in California?
California Vehicle Code section 20008 states that the driver (or their representative) of any vehicle involved in a traffic accident is required within 24 hours to provide the local police department or the California Highway Patrol with a written report of the accident, if it caused anyone to be injured or die (driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, pedestrian, etc.). If the governmental agency receiving said report does not have the authority to investigate the crash, they will forward the report to the appropriate investigating authority.
However, if law enforcement is called to the scene of the accident, that officer will prepare and submit a written report regarding the accident on behalf of his or her agency. In this case, you are under no obligation to write and submit your own written report.
If I’m Involved in a Car Accident, am I Required to Report it To the California DMV?
In many cases, yes. Any driver who is involved in a traffic accident in California is required to report it within 10 days to the California DMV if any of the following applies:
- the accident injured anyone involved (even slightly)
- the accident killed anyone, and/or
- the accident caused property damage (to any vehicle or real property) of over $1,000.
If you want more information on the California laws governing the reporting of car accidents, you can check California Vehicle Code sections 20000 – 20018.
Does the Law Require Me to Report a Car Accident to My Auto Insurance Company?
California, like most states, does not have laws on the books mandating whether or when people involved in a car accident should report it to their auto insurance provider.
However, your auto insurance policy does require you to report car accidents to your insurance carrier very soon after the accident. The sooner you report the accident to your insurer, the sooner they can begin defending the claim. If you do not report the accident in a “reasonable period of time,” your insurance company may decline to cover damages in connection with the accident. Insurance companies have been known to consider a “reasonable period of time” as just one or two days, depending on the particular circumstances.
Even if the accident you were in was minor and didn’t meet the California requirements for a “reportable accident,” you should still inform your auto insurance provider to ensure that they will cover it should the need arise.
Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents
The period of time that a potential plaintiff has the legal right to file a lawsuit in a given state is called the “statute of limitations.” There are different deadlines for different types of harm that may have been suffered and/or the type of case potentially being filed.
Comparative Negligence Rule
The laws vary state-to-state when two or more people caused the car accident and therefore share the fault. California law allows you to recover money damages from other at-fault parties, regardless of how much of the accident was your fault. However, any compensation you receive will be reduced depending on what percentage was your fault. Legally speaking, California is a “pure comparative negligence” state.
How does the comparative negligence rule work in California’s courtrooms? Should your lawsuit make it to court, you can expect judges and juries in California to follow the letter of the law. And, you can count on the insurance claims adjusters involved in your case to apply those rules when determining the amount of money your claim could be worth.
For example, let’s say that you were involved in a car accident in which another driver abruptly changed lanes in an unsafe manner, side-swiping your car. However, you were going a little too fast when this occurred, according to witnesses on the scene and detailed in the police report that was prepared and submitted after the accident.
You end up suing for damages and it’s decided in court that you are 25% responsible for the accident and the other driver is 75% responsible. Your total damages come to $12,000, which includes vehicle repairs, medical bills and loss of income. Under the comparative fault rules in California, you are legally entitled to collect $9,000 from the other at-fault driver after deducting 25% from the $12,000 because you were that much at fault for the accident.
Avoid Making the Situation Worse
When you’re involved in a car accident in California you are required to present your driver’s license, your vehicle registration, proof of financial responsibility or auto insurance, and address to the other driver(s) or people involved, or to law enforcement on the scene.
To calm things down while protecting your rights:
- Avoid arguing with other drivers, passengers, pedestrians and/or anyone else who may be involved.
- Save your side of the story for law enforcement and your insurance provider.
- Do not sign anything about this being your fault or offer to pay damages to the other parties involved.
- If the other driver offers to pay whatever your deductible is, do not agree or sign anything.
Auto Insurance Rules in California
Whenever there’s a claim made after a traffic accident, car insurance is going to have a role to play. As in most states, California requires motor vehicle owners to have a specific amount of insurance coverage, or somehow prove financial responsibility should there be an accident. Otherwise, the owner cannot legally operate their vehicle on roads and highways in California. This is why it is important to know the auto insurance rules in California.
California Auto Accident & Insurance Tips
- Read your auto insurance policy now rather than waiting until you have an accident.
- If there is something you don’t understand, ask your insurance agent and/or company.
- If you’re involved in an accident, call law enforcement. If someone is injured, call 911 for paramedics.
- Gather as much information as you can at the scene of the accident and give this info to your insurance agent and/or company.
- Contact your insurance agent and/or company immediately after an accident.
- Be cooperative with the insurance investigators and/or adjustors so they can do their work.
- If there is something you don’t understand regarding the claims’ process, ask your insurance agent and/or company representative.
- Inform your insurance agent or company in writing if there is a change in ownership of your vehicle.
If you or a family member has been injured in an accident involving motor vehicle negligence and would like to discuss this with a reputable California auto accident lawyer, please contact us. We would be happy to answer all your questions and explain what you can do to protect your legal rights in this situation.
The Law Firm of O’Connor, Runckel & O’Malley has experienced attorneys that specialize in automobile accidents. We are well known and highly respected by our clients as well as the legal community at large. Please contact us now to benefit from our experience and expertise. The initial consultation is free.
Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP. The information presented in this article is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice.